I’ve been meaning to sit down and blog about marriage equality for months. It is a topic I’ve had a definite opinion about since back in 1997 when I did a radio show on same-sex marriage and broadcast live from the gay mecca of West Hollywood. It was a festive show, complete with on air nuptials and free wedding cake for all. I almost got fired for doing that broadcast, after conservative Christian crusaders inundated the radio station with calls for me to be dismissed. Some listeners felt that I was out of the mainstream of African American opinion on the subject and did not deserve to represent us on the mic.
As I often do, I put people on the air who blasted me for my opinion, even as they accused me of suppressing it. It’s one of the basic ironies of talk radio. And I’m okay with it. I would have given Chris Broussard airtime, to share his view that gay people cannot be Christian even though I disagree with him 100%.
I knew exactly what former Packers Safety Leroy Butler was facing when he got axed from a speaking gig for his tweet in support of Jason Collins. And I guess it is the Jason Collins story that is finally prompting me to sit down and focus on this topic. I’m a little overwhelmed as I write because the subject is a true media minefield. So let me break down the issues, as I see them, one at a time.
1) Is Jason Collins a hero? He risked losing a lucrative NBA career and being rejected by his family and friends to tell the truth about who he is. I think that is heroic (even if there was a publicist somewhere urging him to be the first so he could go from “Jason who?” to headline overnight.) I give him credit for making life easier for other folks, especially young people who are struggling with the issues of their own sexual orientation, for blazing a trail
2) Are we sick of this story? I’m not. But I respect folks who are. I get it. The pack mentality of the media is off-putting. Is Collins the only, or even the most important hero of May 2013? Nope. Is there a kid somewhere sacrificing to feed his baby sister that is getting no media attention at all? Without a doubt.
3) Why does he have to tell us? I don’t announce that I’m straight! Sounds funny and right on when people say it, but…heterosexuals are the dominant group in this society. You are assumed to be straight unless proven (or rumored) otherwise. In other words you would face no penalty for announcing your sexuality, or even what you did with your girlfriend last night. Collins did get a lot of support and kudos, but it wasn’t guaranteed. And he has also taken a lot of flak. He had to tell us to break down a barrier and help the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Transgender, Bisexual) community in this country to take a step forward.
4) Why does it have to be a Black guy? I don’t know. But I’m going with this guess. We tend to be more courageous in breaking new ground for human rights and equality. I get that people are not feeling the associations with the feminization or emasculation of the Black man. Or maybe they are just tired of us being the poster boys for everything under the sun. But let’s just go with the explanation that is supported by history, the one that best serves us – we are brave.
5) Why aren’t we giving credit to Brittney Griner the WNBA #1 draft pick who came out two weeks ago? Some say its sexism. But it’s probably because most men are much less threatened by lesbians, than by gay men, and the world of sports (especially sports journalism) is still mostly a man’s world.
6) What does this have to do with marriage equality? The time is now. Public opinion has changed. People are ready for this to be a non-issue. Interestingly enough the gap in public opinion is more generational than racial. People over 40 are still much more likely to be homophobic, regardless of race or religion. Jason Collins is just another indicator that this is the moment in history when we stop legal and institutional discrimination against LGBT people. Changing attitudes and behavior takes longer (look at the lingering legacy of racism,) but it’s time to change what can be changed overnight, laws and policies.
7) Why does it have to be marriage? Couldn’t they call it something else? As a religious matter, the issue of whether or not same sex marriage is permitted is still up to each church. Nothing will change that. But as a nation we cannot pick and choose which laws apply to which people and which groups will not be given the same rights as others. If we say gay people cannot get marriage licenses, should that also extend to drivers licenses, hunting licenses or medical licenses? Either the government has to get out of the marriage business (which is impossible since this particular spiritual union has legal and financial implications that are regulated by state and federal laws,) or we have to extend the exact same rights to all citizens. Period.
8) Why do I care? I don’t. Don’t get me wrong I do care about equal rights under the law for all people. And I am thrilled to see us as a nation moving beyond homophobia and hate! But is same sex marriage on the top of my list of priorities? Not at all. Still, I had to write this because it seems to be top of mind for many people who are not directly impacted by it. Maybe a better question is: why do you care? If you don’t like it, don’t choose it. You are still free to worship as you see fit, teach your children as you choose and avoid your (gay) cousins wedding. Maybe it’s time to let it go and spend your energy feeding some hungry children or volunteering to read to kids at a local school – I’m just saying…
This blog is dedicated to my godmother, the late Audre Lorde the pioneering Black lesbian poet. It is dedicated to my sister Shani Baraka, who inspired many young women to strive for greatness, and be themselves. She died too soon. It is dedicated to my stepfather Alan Marlowe, who loved me unconditionally before he succumbed to lung cancer accelerated by HIV. It is a thank you to my dear (late) friend Eric Nash (AKA “Miss Kane”) who would never have let me stay engaged to Jason Collins cause his “gaydar” would have been beeping like crazy. This is a testament to my late godfather Roberto Clemente who fought for love and respect for all people of good character regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation. And it is for you, for your lesbian auntie and your flamboyant choir director. It’s for your boyfriend on the down low and your favorite stylist. It’s for the Black superstar who we keep shoving back in the closet. If we, Black America, have a special issue with the LGBT community, it’s time to take the blinders off, come out of denial and practice unconditional acceptance. It’s time for us to leave the judgment to God almighty, and practice brotherhood (& sisterhood) right here, right now. It’s time to choose love. One Love.